To start, I will disclaim, as lawyers are known to do: bringing pre-written rule sections into an exam is only ok if your exam is open note and, even then, just to be safe, if your professor says it’s ok. (Don’t worry, for those of you who won’t be able to bring your rule sections to your exam with you, keep reading anyway – they’re still worth writing!)
So, why go through the effort of pre-writing rule sections when you’re just going to have to go ahead and re-write them on the exam anyway and, on top of that, you’re not even entirely sure what’s going to be tested? Here’s why:
It Helps You Anticipate Heavily Tested Issues
You may think that writing out rule sections for a test where you can’t even be sure what will be tested is a waste of time. But, hopefully, you’ve been able to glance at your professors’ past exams or, if those aren’t available, past exams from other professors that can help illustrate commonly tested topics for you. (For example, I have yet to see a 1L Con Law Exam that doesn’t test the Commerce Clause, or a Civil Procedure exam that ignores Subject Matter and Personal Jurisdiction.) Looking at past exams helps you see patterns in terms of what issues professors commonly test, and how they elicit those issues.
Once you’ve done your research on The Big Issues, or just derived a hunch from the attention your professor pays to certain concepts, then those are the issues you’re going to want to write up into rule sections. You’ll want to be over-inclusive in your writing, just to make sure you’ve covered your bases, both in what you write about and how you write about it. So, “kitchen sink” issue spotters aside, if you know you’re unlikely to get tested on every single thing you ever learned, you still want to write up more rule sections than you’d get tested on to give yourself a buffer in terms of what might end up on the exam. In terms of being over-inclusive about how you write these up, make sure the rule section you write out includes any nuances or exceptions you learned that accompany that issue. You may not end up using a particular exception in your final essay, but it’s there if you need it. The rule sections are essentially designed to be templates, so remember to be flexible and adapt them to the question being asked. Overall, having pre-written rule sections is already a step towards mitigating the element of surprise that can spike your anxiety during a law school exam.
It Saves Your Brain Work for Analysis (Where The Real Points Are!)
The purpose of issue spotters being structured the way they are is to elicit analytical answers. The most important thing you can do in exam prep is make sure that you know how to apply the law to a set of facts. So, if the analysis is so important, why take the time to prewrite rule sections? Well, first of all, you can’t prewrite analysis because you don’t yet know what the fact pattern is going to be (though can – and should – practice analysis!) But, more importantly, when you’re actually taking the exam, all that effort that you would otherwise expend on figuring out how to write out your rule can be spent engaging in deep, thoughtful, and nuanced analysis. Having your rule section almost mindlessly transcribed into your exam means that your brain has the energy and capacity to mine the details of the fact pattern and write a stellar analysis of the issues being raised.
Remember, rules are kind of the equalizers in a law school exam – most students are coming in with the same basic understanding of the law you’ve all learned together. What sets students apart is how they write about the law in relation to the facts. You don’t want an elusive rule to sap your resources at the expense of the far more valuable analysis you need to be doing. So, go into cruise control for your rules and save the overdrive for your analysis.
It Saves Time – Lots and Lots of Time
Blanking on how to put something into words can eat up a lot of time. It’s a crappy feeling. You know that you know what you want to say, but you don’t know how to say it. That’s a hole I have sat in, and I remember being stuck there for awhile, trying to find the words and then hearing the proctor call “5 minutes!” when I still had a whole paragraph of facts left to analyze. With pre-written rule sections, all you have to do is get the words from the paper in front of you up on the screen – fast. Not only does that free up your brain space, but it saves you all that time you would have otherwise spent trying to remember exactly how to explain cy pres.
It Aids Memorization, If Your Exam Requires It
Alright, for those folks who won’t actually be able to bring outside notes into your exam, thanks for being patient and here’s the good news: memorizing fully written rule statements can actually help your writing on the exam. So, instead of just memorizing the holdings from five different cases, you’re memorizing how those holdings connect to each other to form a comprehensive rule, and how to actually articulate that rule. The added benefit is, again, anxiety mitigation. When you get that fact pattern in the exam room, you can breathe a bit easier knowing that you’ve done this all before, and let your muscle memory kick in and do some of the work.
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